Building Projects – Frequently Asked Questions

Posted by on Jan 19, 2018 in Press

Building Projects – Frequently Asked Questions

Its Friday and time for some answers to those key questions about your building projects – here David answers some of the ones we get asked regularly :

What consents are required to carry out a building project?

Almost any new building and most alterations to existing buildings requires Planning Permission and, in Scotland, a Building Warrant or in England Building Regulations Approval.  Alterations to Listed buildings also require Listed Building Consent.

Are they the same thing?

No.  There is some similarity between Planning Permission and Listed Building Consent but a Building Warrant, or its English equivalent, is an entirely different form of consent undertaken by different local authority officials and in a separate department.

What is Planning Permission?

Planning Permission is an approval to the design principles put forward in the form of a set of drawings that describe the appearance of the building.  They do not explain its construction in technical detail.

How are planning decisions made?

Decisions of the Planning Authority should follow their stated policies but the final decisions are, to a degree unpredictable – an application might or might not get consent.  Planning officials will recommend to the politicians whether it should be approved but the politicians (the Planning Committee) will decide for themselves unless they have given “delegated” authority to the Planning officials to decide on their behalf.

What can I do if Planning Permission is turned down?

If consent is refused there is an appeal process but negotiation is often the better course of action, before the application is turned down, particularly if the Planning officials indicate that they won’t recommend it or that they intend to use their delegated powers to refuse it.

What is a Building Warrant or its English equivalent?

Building Standards (Building Regulations in England) are more predictable.  They include such considerations as fire safety, structural integrity, thermal performance, durability and the ultimate safety and wellbeing of the building occupants.  If a proposed building project complies with the standards/regulations, the authority must approve it but in order to determine whether it complies much more technical information is required than are required in a Planning application.  This form of consent in Scotland is called a Building Warrant.

When is a Building Warrant application made?

Usually the work required to produce a Building Warrant application is not done until the outcome of the Planning consent process is assured.  However, both consent processes are lengthy so some overlap is often adopted.

What is Listed Building Consent?

As well as Planning Consent, alterations to a Listed Building will require consent.  This is yet another separate process but usually the same drawings that are used for a Planning application are submitted for Listed Building Consent.  The authorities may, however, want to see more detail concerning how alterations will impact on the historic fabric.  Listed Building Consent is a local authority function but Historic Environment Scotland (or Historic England in England) are consulted as Statutory Consultees except in cases where they have decided to give discretion to local authorities and their opposition to a proposal is rarely ignored.

How long does it take?

Planning and Listed Building Consent Applications have to be publicly advertised in accordance with a process that forms part of the timetable of the overall consent process.  Depending on how busy they are and sometimes on how efficient they are, or how complicated the application is, Planning and Listed Building Consent processes are usually run in parallel and take 8-12 weeks, but can be much longer if they are contentious.  Building Warrants take a similar length of time.

I have done work in England and now want to do work in Scotland.  Are the systems different?

In England work may start without Building Regulations approval.  In Scotland commencing work without a Warrant is an offence although there is a procedure for doing so in certain circumstances.  In England it is possible to go to an independent firm as an alternative to the Local Authority for Building Regulations approval.  This results in a much more responsive and user-friendly system than in Scotland.  The regulatory framework itself is similar but different.

Can I give the Planning drawings to a builder so that we can get on with the project?

No.  Planning drawings certainly can’t be built from.  Building Warrant drawings often are used as the basis for construction but it is definitely not recommended that they should be.  After Building Warrant there is a whole stage of design development known as detailed design and production information.  Unless the contractor is given the level of detail recorded in the course of this stage, many things can go wrong on site.

What can happen if I ignore the consent process and just get on with my project?

If you require and do not have Planning Permission, enforcement proceedings may be raised to force you to reinstate what you have done.

If you require and do not have Listed Building Consent, the alterations you have carried out may amount to a criminal offence.

If you do not comply with Building Standards (or Regulations) enforcement proceedings may be taken against you and you may not be allowed to occupy the building.

It is illegal to occupy a building for which a Completion Certificate has not been obtained from the Local Authority.

It is often difficult to sell a building that is non-compliant in terms of statutory consents.

Once all those drawings have been prepared can I get on with the project?

In addition to drawings it is often necessary to have written documents that specify the work in further detail and provide a framework for contractors to price and to enable variations in the course of the work to be evaluated.  These documents usually also include detailed conditions of contract based on one of the standard forms of contract used in the building industry.  Collectively these documents and the drawings are known as “Tender Documents” and are used to obtain competitive offers from contractors.  Once a contractor has been selected they become the basis of the contract.

Does the architect do all of this for me?

Sometimes specialists are required in support of the process.  The architect will usually co-ordinate them.  They may include:

A planning consultant to guide the Planning Process if it is contentious or complicated.  Planning Consultants have a highly detailed knowledge of policies and procedures.

A structural engineer to design and approve the structure of the building.  A structural engineer is almost always needed unless the work involves very little structural alteration to an existing building.

A mechanical and electrical services engineer to assess the thermal performance of a building’s fabric and to design the services that will power, heat, cool, light and ventilate the building.  When this kind of engineer is required is a matter for more detailed discussion.

An interior designer to provide specialist input into the look and feel of the interiors and to be concerned with the design of finishes, lighting and components such as bathrooms and kitchens.  There can be some overlap between the architect and the interior designer.  Once again, precisely when it is appropriate to bring in an interior designer can be discussed with the architect.

A landscape architect or designer with a similar role to that of interior designer in respect of the design of hard and soft landscaping.

A quantity surveyor undertakes the role of cost consultant to a building project, preparing budgets and some of the Tender documentation.  The quantity surveyor may also value the work as it progresses and negotiate the contractor’s final account.  Sometimes the role of quantity surveyor can be provided by the architect or building surveyor.

What is the role of a Building Surveyor?

Building surveyors often perform the functions of an architect or work in conjunction with an architect, particularly in existing building projects and when the design aspects are limited.   They also undertake due diligence in the form of building surveys and they are specialists in the repair and maintenance of existing buildings.

Do I need a project manager?

Project management is part of the service provided by an architect but sometimes it is appropriate to separate it out as a distinct function and to appoint a project manager.  The project manager can be appointed very early on before a design team is assembled and can help the client to write the initial project brief and establish the project strategy before going on to assist with the selection and appointment of the design team and the management of the design and construction processes.

What sort of supervision is required when the works get underway?

This question cannot be simply answered and will be different for different projects.  In essence though, it is the contractor’s responsibility to supervise the trades and to ensure that the work is delivered in accordance with the contract documentation.  How much this needs to be monitored will vary from project to project.


David Gibbon

Chartered Building Surveyor